Martin Luther King Jr. Peace, Equality, Justice

Helping Children Understand Abstract Concepts

Abstract concepts are important to teach to elementary students. Teaching children to be abstract thinkers that can reflect on events and ideas, and on attributes and relationships separate from concrete experiences and materials is daunting but is also a lot of fun.

Most theories assume that our ability to learn abstract concepts depends solely on linguistic skills, for example, we learn the meaning of freedom by hearing or reading about it. Some theories indicate that emotional development also plays a critical role in learning abstract concepts. This may put children with a reading problem and children on the autism spectrum at a disadvantage.

So when learning about abstract concepts such as peace, equality, and justice it is important to use as many angles as possible and engage as many senses as possible. This is why I love using Martin Luther King Jr. as the mental hook. He is a hero in many respects and embodies these abstract concepts so well. This blog post will take you through how I teach and celebrate MLK’s life as well as the concepts of peace, equality, and justice.

At each developmental level, your student develops his or her ability to think abstractly by using two basic tools, by using mental hooks and patterns. Mental hooks (schema) is giving a concrete experience or in this case a person, MLK, in which students can “hang” bits and pieces of information on. As students cognitive abilities develop, they are able to use mental operations which will allow them to think about abstract concepts without having to think more abstractly about relationships or patterns without actual concrete experiences or objects.

In my MLK resource, we will use google docs to record information and learn about MLK through the use of video and classroom discussion and demonstration.

Peace, Equality, and Justice
Students have learned about Martin Luther King Jr. by third grade in one form or another so I start off with the anticipatory set of students putting together a virtual puzzle of MLK. The should instantly recognize him and enter the information into the slide. Then they will take their time to write what they know and what they want to know in the KWL chart.

Then comes the fun part. The discussion of the abstract– ohhhhhh!!!

After the students had time to think about and write their own idea of what peace, equality, and justice mean. Open the table for discussion, display the following posters to help get the discussion started.


What are the first steps to world peace?

Is it important to think about peace?

How peaceful are you?

What would it take for the world to be more peaceful?

Would people need to change how they think, for the world to be peaceful?


What is equality?

Do you know of any inequalities right now?

What do you do when you see inequality?

Do you think we will reach a state of equality?

Does anyone have more rights than you?


What is justice?

How can you be just?

Can you compare justice and equality?

These questions do not have to be done straight away but woven into this mini-unit, using MLK as the mental hook. Once students have written their own definitions, have them refer to this slide and add information as they learn more about this abstract concept through the study of Martin Luther King Jr. It is always good to introduce and tinker with the concept then introduce the mental hook, in this case, MLK.

The next set of slides will take the student on a journey of learning about MLK and how he embodied these abstract concepts. Students will refer to videos that explain the life of MLK, they will complete Martin Luther King Jr. Life Timeline, really think about his DREAM and write their own. This mini-lesson integrates abstract thinking, MLK, and technology. Students will have fun as they learn and grow with this short but fun mini-lesson.

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Martin Luther King Jr